The anatomy of the spine is an amazing and complex thing. That’s because it contains bones, nerves, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It’s like the internet inside the spine as the nerves flow from the brain on down through the spine down and ends at the tips of the toes. They also branch out on the sides of the spine. These nerves provide the sensation to the legs, toes, arms, hands, and fingers.
This long, skinny, S-curved structure manages to do a big job: hold the body upright and support it in all its activities including bending and twisting. The bones in the spine, known as vertebrae, make up the spinal column. The vertebrae protect the nerve roots and spinal cord.
With so many parts in the spine, one thing going wrong can cause back and leg pain.
An Overview of Lumbar Radiculopathy
The lumbar spine is commonly referred to as the lower back and has a slight inward curve. Inside are five vertebrae and five pairs of cervical nerve roots. The bottom of the lumbar spine carries the most weight. Hence, it’s no surprise this area is often where a lot of back problems start.
One problem that can occur in the lumbar spine is nerve root compression or radiculopathy, which is the inflammation or compression of the nerve. Lumbar radiculopathy is more commonly known as sciatica. A number of things can cause it such as a disc herniation, disc degeneration, and spinal stenosis. These can irritate the nerve. When they do, the nerve sends a pain signal to the affected leg.
Sciatica typically involves sharp pain that can occur anywhere from the top of the leg down to the foot. Note that sciatica is not a cause of pain but rather a symptom from an underlying condition like a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, a bone spur, or the thickening of the spinal ligaments known as ossification. Aside from shooting pain, sciatica can cause numbness, tingling, or weakness in the leg, foot, or both.
How Lumbar Radiculopathy Is Diagnosed and Treated?
The healthcare provider will review the patient’s medical history, discuss the symptoms, and conduct a physical exam. To test for sciatica, the doctor may order an X-ray, an MRI, or an electromyography and nerve conduction study.
Since sciatica is a symptom not the cause, the healthcare provider will want to identify the cause before proposing a treatment plan. Fortunately, sciatica often goes away on its own. In the meantime, the doctor may recommend over-the-counter medication, heat or cold treatment, osteopathic manipulation, or a combination of options.
When should someone with sciatica call the back and spine doctor? Contact the healthcare provider when the pain worsens, the affected leg feels numb, the pain returns after past treatment, or trouble urinating or having bowel movements.
Have a question? Please contact us or call 214-823-2052. We have two conveniently located offices in Addison and Dallas serving patients in Dallas, Addison, Plano, Frisco, Garland, and other cities in the DFW metroplex.